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The Best Towns in Arizona for Young Families

July 23, 2013
Home Ownership Costs, Mortgages
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The Grand Canyon State boasts immense natural beauty — including Petrified Forest and Saguaro National Park — phenomenal food, and great places to live, from high-end communities such as Scottsdale to up-and-coming, affordable towns such as Buckeye.

NerdWallet’s analysis

As we studied cities and towns looking for the best fit for young families, we asked the following questions:

  • Does the town have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This nonprofit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a scale from 1 through 10 (with 10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  • Is the town affordable? We looked at both average home values in each town and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  • Is the town growing and prospering? We assessed a town’s economy by looking at average household income and income growth over the previous decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

Check out our cost of living calculator and mortgage rates calculator for more information. Don’t miss our 2015 rankings of this study.

The best towns in Arizona for young families

1. Oro Valley

Oro Valley is a dynamic center of education and research. The town is home to a dozen technology firms, emerging as a regional center for the biotech industry and providing for lucrative employment opportunities. Oro Valley is distinguished by a median household income that is nearly 50% higher than the U.S. median, the top FBI safety ranking in the state of Arizona and an excellent school district. Oro Valley’s BASIS Charter School is regularly ranked as one of the top 10 high school programs in the country. Its students consistently excel on both the statewide and national levels.

2. Scottsdale

Scottsdale is home to some of the country’s most gorgeous golf courses, an excellent school district and fantastic shopping. A number of its schools have earned top honors from the state government: Arcadia High School, for example, was deemed “excelling” by the Arizona Department of Education. Beyond its great schools, Scottsdale is known as a vacation hot spot. The city is fourth after only New York City, Las Vegas and Atlanta for the most five-diamond hotels in the country and boasts the highest number of destination spas per capita of any city in the U.S. Residents enjoy the city’s abundance of upscale restaurants, nightlife, art galleries and luxury shopping.

3. Buckeye

As one of the fastest-expanding suburbs over the past decade, Buckeye seemed to pop up overnight, with exponential economic growth and 22 master-planned communities, expected to house more than 400,000 people by 2030. Family life today is already bright, too. Buckeye celebrates Countryfest in the fall, Pioneer Days in the spring, and a Fourth of July party in the summer. The town is also committed to maintaining its green spaces, with tree-planting initiatives, therefore earning the title of Tree City USA from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

4. Peoria

A major suburb of Phoenix, Peoria is considered a city with potential for advancement. It is home to Lake Pleasant and its accompanying regional park, boasting 10,000 acres of water, two marinas and boat and watercraft rentals galore. The park provides for exceptional recreational opportunities, including an extensive trail system for biking, camping and hiking, as well as archaeological sites. Additionally, the city has an eye on glamorous high-end waterfront development and has already gained recognition as an educational destination thanks to the Challenger Space Center, which hosts stargazing events and space-flight simulations.

5. Chandler

Chandler is a prominent suburb of the Phoenix metro area, with an impressive draw for high-tech career seekers. Its advanced computer-manufacturing industry, with Intel as Chandler’s top employer, attracts skilled workers from the area’s top universities and stimulates city growth and a healthy economy. Apart from its job opportunities, Chandler is also famous for its Ostrich Festival. During the 1910s, the city’s economy was sustained on ostrich farms to fulfill a demand for plumes used in women’s hats. Although that demand has now dwindled, Chandler commemorates its quirky origins with an annual celebration.

6. Sierra Vista

True to its name, which translates to “mountain view,” Sierra Vista is a haven for hikers, campers and nature lovers. Bordering the city are the Huachuca Mountains, rising nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, and the Miller Peak Wilderness area, which provides spectacular views. Other outdoor attractions include the Kartchner Caverns, the Coronado National Forest and the Ramsey Canyon Preserve, a famous bird-watching attraction. In fact, Sierra Vista carries the nickname Hummingbird Capital of the United States since bird watchers from all around the world flock to observe and photograph hundreds of bird species.

7. Lake Havasu City

A popular tourist destination year-round, it seems that Lake Havasu City has something for everyone. In the spring, college students seek out the city’s calm waters and warm beaches. Due to its lakeside location, Lake Havasu City is home to an abundance of water sports and boating competitions, including the International Jet Sports Boating Association World Finals. Additionally, many events center around the city’s central attraction, the London Bridge — a bridge that was actually imported from London in 1971. The bridge makes for the perfect viewpoint for the Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair.

8. Gilbert

The town of Gilbert boasts a small-town feel with big-city appeal — its friendly community and safe neighborhoods are complemented by its progressive school districts and general appreciation for education. The Gilbert Public Schools District, for instance, employs the highest number of National Board Certified teachers in the state: that’s 104 teachers who are recognized for their excellence and commitment to their profession.

9. Prescott

Prescott’s downtown has regularly been recognized for its beauty. Its Courthouse Plaza stands alongside Central Park and Santa Monica Beach as one of the Great Public Spaces in the United States, according to the American Planning Association. Seven out of eight of Prescott Unified schools earned a letter grade of “B” or higher on the Department of Education’s statewide assessment of Arizona schools. Education for adults is just as top-notch, too. Northern Arizona University maintains a Prescott campus that offers degrees in fields like education and public administration, while Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in a number of sciences, from aviation to electrical engineering.

10. Sahuarita

Sahuarita prides itself on its natural beauty and its strong educational system, for children and adults alike. The town boasts 7,000 acres of natural space, including pecan groves and agricultural fields. Sahuarita High’s music department recently got a big boost: the Grammy Foundation awarded the program $5,500 in grant money to support fine art education at the school. Furthermore, both the University of Arizona and Pima Community College have partnered with the school district to bring more higher education opportunities to the city.

The best towns in Arizona for young families

Scroll right to see all data categories.

RankCityNearest big cityGreatSchools ratingMedian home valueMonthly owner costsMedian household incomeGrowth, '99-'11Overall score for young families
1Oro ValleyTucson9$308,600$1,815$71,56117.24%64.4
6Sierra Vista--7$200,300$1,461$56,67147.48%61.0
7Lake Havasu City--8$223,100$1,387$44,06920.74%60.8


The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city, weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school.
  2. Median home value is from the 2011 American Community Survey, a division of the U.S. Census Bureau.
  3. Monthly homeowner costs are from the 2011 American Community Survey.
  4. Median annual household income is from the 2011 American Community Survey.
  5. Income change from 1999 to 2011 is from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In all, 64 Arizona cities and towns with a population over 10,000 were considered.

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